Friday, July 26, 2013

Chicago Doughnut Update

Courtesy of Do-Rite's Facebook page.
Five-and-a-half months ago I gave my State of the Donuts Address, but much has changed, citizen! A mid-year update is needed! First, I'll debrief you on the recent history of the Chicago gourmet doughnut scene.
  • Apr. 2011 - Doughnut Vault opens to enormous lines and at least one disappointed customer. (401 1/2 N. Franklin)
  • May 2011 - Lincoln Park's Cookie Bar (open May 2010) begins opening in the mornings as a pop-up doughnut shop called Dirty Betty's. (RIP)
  • Mar. 2012 - Do-Rite Donuts opens in the Loop. (50 W. Randolph)
  • May 2012 - Glazed & Infused opens, having since expanded to five shops.  (Multiple locations)
  • Feb. 2013 - Firecakes opens in River North and I find my new obsession. (68 W. Hubbard)
  • early June 2013 - Much-hyped chef Enoch Simpson opens Endgrain in Roscoe Village, far from its more southerly brethren. (1851 W. Addison)
  • late June 2013 - West Town Bakery (formerly Bleeding Heart Bakery) begins selling "doughssants" becoming the first known distributor of the much-hyped croissant/doughnut portmanteau within Chicago city limits. (Multiple locations)
  • July 2013 - Cookie Bar, having closed its original location in 2012, reopens in Ravenswood with limited hours. Once again, it offers Dirty Betty's doughnuts. (1746 W. Wilson)
...But enough history. Onward to eating!

Best Overall Gourmet Doughnut:
Strawberry Mascarpone
from Firecakes

Courtesy of the Firecakes Facebook page.
Since opening, they have slowly added new items to their menu, but none as awe-inspiring as their Strawberry Mascarpone doughnut, which effortlessly dethroned the previous "Best Chicago Doughnut." Firecakes' glaze + yeast doughnut + a sweet, subtly cheesy filling + the perfect amount of juicy and refreshing strawberries = a light-tasting, full-bodied doughnut with more layers of flavor than one ever expected to get from fried pastry. Quite simply, Firecakes has mastered the art of the yeast doughnut, which I already knew from my first taste of their classic glazed doughnut. Bonus points: it looks gorgeously elegant.

Crème Brûlée from Glazed & Infused
Chocolate-Hazelnut Longjohn from Firecakes
Meyer-Lemon Pistachio from Do-Rite

Best Bacon Doughnut:
Maple Bacon French Cruller from Do-Rite Donuts (pictured above)

Finally, Do-Rite takes the bacon doughnut concept and does it, er, right. While a seemingly sensible combination of breakfast foods, maple bacon doughnuts are often a heavy, oily mess. Turns out that what they needed was to highlight yet another breakfast staple--eggs! French Crullers are the light, airy, egg-y answer to this doughnut conundrum. Perfectly balanced with Do-Rite's maple glaze, which doesn't overpower.

Runner-up: Bacon Butterscotch from Endgrain

Raspberry jelly doughnut from Endgrain.
Best Jelly Doughnut (or Jelly Cronut):
Rotating selection from Endgrain

The first bite. That was when I knew I was eating the best jelly doughnut of my life. More fruit than jiggly bits, their straight-off-the-berry-bush filling is in every bite of this jam-packed, er, jelly-packed doughnut. What makes this more notable than others? Let's take a look at the competition: The flaky-but-oil-retaining cronuts (billed as doughssants) from West Town Bakery, the cinnamon-sugar-topped bismarcks from Glazed & Infused and the gigantic jelly doughnuts from Firecakes are all best recognized for reasons other than their jelly. Endgrain gets it right. All jelly, all fruit, all the time.

No runner-up. Nothing compares.

Best Classic Doughnut:
Chocolate Glazed from Dirty Betty's/Cookie Bar

One could debate whether or not anything from Dirty Betty's is a "classic doughnut," since all of their gluten free products are baked instead of fried. But naysaying is the best evidence of someone who hasn't tried the products at Cookie Bar. Dirty Betty's has the best chocolate glaze I've ever consumed. One can actually taste the chocolate, unlike the lazily slathered chocolate glazes one usually encounters which, despite their best brown intentions, taste like something between coagulated sugar or grocery aisle cake frosting...a spectrum that doesn't include actual chocolate.

Runner-up: Valrhona Chocolate Glazed from Firecakes

Courtesy of the Firecakes Facebook page.
Best All-Around Doughnut Shop:

A doughnut shop with almost as many highlights as it has doughnuts, the only problem with a trip to Firecakes is deciding which doughnut to get. I've already touched on some of my personal favorites, but nearly the entire menu is worth exploring. Their Classic Buttermilk unlocks the power of this often bland doughnut selection. Their Honey Glazed is a masterstroke, the perfect realization of a classic. Their newer Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup is airy-but-dense mini-doughnut that is equal parts sweet and rich. The menu is so good that I've even revisited the doughnuts that I've found less impressive (their Coconut Cream cake doughnut and their rotating line of jelly doughnuts), believing there is genius to be found if I taste it on just the right day. Hubbard St. downtown has become Donut Way recently, but Firecakes is undoubtedly the place to go.

Runner-up: Endgrain

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